It’s been a very busy week for me, with lots of good things happening – as always. But the undercurrent of crime (murders) is very disturbing. I just heard the news of the deaths of two American missionaries. It is becoming increasingly hard for the average Jamaican to deal with all this loss. Personally, I don’t think hanging is the answer; revenge, whether carried out by the State or not, is never the answer, nor is it a deterrent. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough faith in the justice system in its current shambolic state to promote a return to hanging. Well, that’s just my view. But please think again, Minister Montague. Like Opposition Justice Spokesman Mark Golding, I fear tinkering with the death penalty legislation will have undesired consequences. There has to be a better way! The answer is, I believe, radical reform of the police force, which has many “issues.”
Big news was the establishment of the Economic Growth Council, headed by banker Michael Lee Chin – to facilitate a growth environment. Mr. Lee Chin is aiming for five per cent over the next four years. He is a man with all the right connections – local, regional and international; he also has an excellent reputation. Do we know who the public and private sector leaders comprising the Council will be? The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica’s Dennis Chung has expressed some concern that “institutional structures” should be reviewed, however. Do they have the capacity? Mr. Lee Chin’s mandate is to attract large-scale investment to Jamaica and to “remove bottlenecks,” in the Prime Minister’s words. Did you know we also have an Ambassador Plenipotentiary for Economic Affairs, Dr Nigel Clarke? I am quite vague about his duties, but… well, let’s wait and see. In any case, growth is the big word…
A mighty strange story: And yet again the focus is on the city of Montego Bay – the source of a string of unnerving, downright scary stories these days. This tale begins with a tragedy: a three-year-old girl is found dead, face down in the sand of Dump Up Beach, on Tuesday morning. Her father is immediately identified as a suspect. He had taken the little girl away from her mother the night before after an argument, calling later to say he planned to kill himself and their daughter. Roosevelt ‘Timmy’ Thomas, the father, turns himself in and allegedly confesses to the crime. On Thursday morning he is being interviewed by the police at Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay, with his attorney present. Yes, the same Barnett Street of Mario Deane notoriety. Suddenly, reports say, he jumps up (in handcuffs) and escapes by jumping 15 to 20 feet through a first floor window and running away (uninjured). SSP Steve McGregor says an awning broke his fall. Did anyone see the man in handcuffs running through the busy downtown area? A few hours later shots are heard at a house in Glendevon. A neighbor reports that the police came and put up yellow tape 15 minutes later. And Timmy Thomas is dead. Strange? Yes, I think so. Very strange. Perhaps INDECOM should investigate? The Police Commissioner is now in possession of an interim report (not from INDECOM) and I hope there will be transparency on this matter.
That emergency number: It’s shocking to know that 70 per cent of calls received at the police emergency 119 number are non-emergency. Now, with the help of Motorola, the Jamaica Constabulary Force has a Computer Aided Dispatch System, expected to greatly speed up their response time. Hopefully the public will stop calling 119 to report minor issues. It receives 27,000 to 33,000 calls daily!
Unwanted: Did you know that hundreds of Jamaicans (young and old) across the island are simply abandoned in public hospitals and infirmaries – including 600 at Bellevue Hospital, our only psychiatric facility – and remain there even when they are better? This is costing the taxpayer millions, says Health Minister Christopher Tufton. Of course, the Government can’t just throw them out. Minister Tufton is considering viable options, including “halfway houses” (but that would still be a cost, wouldn’t it? These people are basically destitute).
Good news! There will be no dam in Bog Walk Gorge; this had been under consideration by the previous administration and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) was preparing a feasibility study. But it will be far too costly and ineffective; and Jamaicans would lose forever the beautiful views of the river and fascinating limestone rocks, a whole ecosystem swamped. What we need to do is clean up the Rio Cobre, which is polluted.
Another big drug bust: Despite the somewhat controversial circumstances of the last bust, the donation of boats by the U.S. Embassy to the Marine Police seems to be paying off, as there was another large seizure (650 pounds of ganja) off the south coast yesterday; three men, including a Haitian national, were arrested.
Purging “demons” doesn’t work: Some church leaders actually believe in “demonic possession,” it appears. What century are we in, again? The tragic case of a mentally ill young man, who tried to disarm a policeman in Waterhouse and was subsequently shot dead, is one that disproves this superstition. Odane Bennett was apparently purged, then baptized, and immediately left the church compound to his death. He needed a qualified professional psychiatrist! I agree with the church people though that religious leaders should not take it on themselves to “cure” people with mental illness.
Cuba, Jamaica and tourism: With the pending “opening up” of Cuba to what I expect will be a veritable flood of U.S. tourists, it’s timely that Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has started discussions with his Cuban counterparts on a multi-destination arrangement. This will also include the Dominican Republic, which is by far the biggest tourism destination in the Caribbean (and has been for years). There is also a Timeshare Vacation Act, which comes into effect today. Minister Bartlett has always been a very optimistic man, expecting great things of our tourism industry. Rather than high numbers, though, I would like to see “high end” tourism play a greater role. I absolutely cannot see the point of establishing a “hospitality college,” one of the Minister’s ideas, however. Just expand a couple of HEART training programs! A “craft institute”? We do still have Things Jamaican, albeit a shadow of itself in the 1980s. Let’s not reinvent the wheel.
The good stuff…
Youth opportunities – grants available: The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is offering education grants to assist with tuition fees for students in fifth and sixth form and also at the tertiary level. To qualify for an education grant, applicants must undertake 30 hours of volunteer service in a golden age home, children’s home, or infirmary. Those eligible for entrepreneurial grants must be willing to participate in training with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation. Remember also that President Obama announced the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative during his visit to Jamaica last year? The Fellowship is now open to applicants age 21 to 35 with at least two years of entrepreneurial/leadership experience, preferably with a startup business or social venture. The deadline is May 20. Full details here: http://ylai.state.gov/fellowship/
UNICEF Jamaica has again done a great job, placing critical issues affecting our children squarely on the agenda in the lead-up to Child Month – which is May. The Office of the Children’s Advocate will be launching Internet safety guidelines (Be Social…Be Smart) for children, who are vulnerable to online bullying and exploitation, and parents. It’s a very real issue.
Girls in ICT Day: Technology Minister Dr. Andrew Wheatley said at a special seminar on the day that including more women in the ICT world would “amplify women’s voices, women’s experiences and perspectives.” Kudos to Elizabeth Bennett Marsh of the Office of Utilities Regulation for this year’s initiative, which included students from 22 high schools; and to pioneers like Ingrid Riley of Connectimass, still forging ahead. I hope this becomes a regular annual event and more importantly, that efforts are made in the education system.
Fabulous women: The indomitable Shirley Pryce, President of the Jamaica Household Workers’ Union, accompanied GraceKennedy 2015 Household Workers of the Year (Rosetta Steer and runners-up Jasmin Miller, Donna Elizabeth Smith) to King’s House recently, where they met with Governor General Sir Patrick Allen. Congratulations to them!
Lionfish feast: I hear that seventy pounds of lion fish were consumed at an “extravaganza” at a Kingston restaurant on Friday night. Not all by the same person, of course! Many say it tastes delicious. Congratulations to the organizers and the cooks, who did steamed, escoveitched, curried, etc… Let’s catch (and eat) more of this highly invasive species – removing the spines first of course!
Climate change postscript: At a joint Green Climate Fund/UN Women meeting recently, it was noted that the recently signed Paris Agreement “recognizes gender equality and women as agents of change to the solution of climate change. Now it is up to us to work together to make it happen.” The Caribbean/Jamaica must focus on this, going forward!
And the sad, scary stuff… My deepest condolences to the families of these Jamaicans, young and old, including a middle-aged policewoman and a small girl. Our hearts grieve for you. I am glad to see that the Child Development Agency is providing counseling. I also extend condolences to the family of 13-year-old J’Quan Forbes, the son of a member of the (JCF), who reportedly killed himself with his father’s service revolver after receiving a dressing-down from his father. INDECOM is investigating.
Corporal Judith Williams, 54, Bray Street, East Kingston
Everton Samuda, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Alexander Holder, 33, St. Catherine (near
Roosevelt Thomas, 24, Glendevon, St. James
Leashay Thomas, 3, Dump Up Beach, Montego Bay, St. James
Randy Hentzel, 58, Albion Mountain, St. Mary (U.S. Citizen)
Harold Nichols, 53, St. Mary (U.S. Citizen)